In 2006, I began working for a company called Standard Register as a Customer Service Representative. My primary job was answering incoming calls from more than a dozen different companies purchasing paper supplies from SR. Each account had different products, different shipping agreements, and different prices. Even more confusing, many account had a different answer message ("Thank you for calling company support..." instead of "Thank you for calling Standard Register..."). The telephone system would identify the customer, and we had to look through our reference binders for the correct account information before we could answer the telephone. Our Service Level Agreements with the companies set maximum wait times for inbound calls, meaning we had to answer as quickly as possible. Additionally, several of our customers frequently adjusted policies regarding business cards or shipping, requiring us to print the account information again and ensure that everyone on the account had the correct information. This printing accounted for 80% of the print costs for our team of 15 CSRs. The system was cumbersome and put hard limit on how many accounts an individual CSR could handle.

At the time, I had come from the IT Department at my university, where I had been experimenting with learning Visual Basic Macros for Office. As a result of that, I knew I could create a solution. The first version of the solution was simple, but not very effective. Using Microsoft Word and macros, I created a Word document named Launchpad that had a button for each account. When you clicked the button, it opened the appropriate account information file. I immediately started using it for myself. My boss recognized I was using less paper and answering telephones without using the giant reference binders that most of my coworkers did. After I demonstrated how it worked, it immediately called on me to train my coworkers on this new tool. In the midst of training, I recognized that Microsoft Word was not the best platform for what we were doing.

Microsoft Word had several limitations which restricted it's usefulness.
  1. Office 2003 was not designed to have multiple people open the document at the same time. The first person got a full, read/write version of the document. Everybody after that got an error message making them choose between Read-Only and opening a read/write version to merge in later. This error message confused team members who were not as comfortable with computers.
  2. Macros had to be enabled in Office 2003. Additionally, Macros allowing you to open another document needed extra permissions (a second check box in the settings). Because our team was the only one using the tool, this had to be configured by hand each time a new person joined.
  3. Macros in Office are notoriously fickle. Macros which worked just fine on my computer would fail on a coworker's for no apparent reason.
It was clear to me another tool was needed. So, I began to study HTML and CSS. Within 2 months, between telephone calls, I re-wrote the Microsoft Word version using XML and CSS. The new tool was faster, easier to use, and had zero compatibility or collaboration errors. Additionally, it required no additional configuration of settings. This streamlined adding new CSRs to an account, adding new accounts to our call center, and updating existing accounts.

At the time I left the job, there were two major areas to expand Launchpad, but they both would require the company allocating a server to us. The primary area of expansion was creating user accounts for the CSRs, which would have allowed us to restrict who edited the account information and restrict who had access to which account's information. Closely associated with that would be streamlining editing and transitioning everything into HTML pages. Word documents load slower than HTML pages every time. Had we switched entirely to HTML, the pages would have loaded much faster and more smoothly, but that would have required a simple editor because account information documents were maintained by the lead CSR on the account, and few of them could write HTML at the time.